Samoa PM: No need for referendum on women’s bill
APIA — Demands by the Opposition to hold a national referendum on planned legislation to improve women representation in Parliament has been dismissed by government.
Says Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi; “That is why districts elect their representatives to Parliament. So they go in and make these sorts of decisions without Parliament having to go back to the people again and again. If the Opposition leader cannot make such a decision, then he shouldn’t be in Parliament.”
The Prime Minister said women have been represented in Parliament the last 40 years and there was no need to go back to the voters.
“The bill is to improve women representation in Parliament by guaranteeing that at least five women will be in Parliament after each general election. It’s not a huge bill.”
He explained that if less than five are elected, then women who scored the highest percentage of votes in their constituencies will make up the balance.
“But if five or more women win seats then this particular piece of (planned) legislation will not be activated.”
The Prime Minister said there was growing concern with the declining number of women who run for office and the subsequent, declining number of women who make it to Parliament.
“In 2006, 19 women contested the general elections and four made it in. Nine ran at last year’s elections and only two are in Parliament. Next general elections there may not be any more women in Parliament.”
Tuilaepa said he was familiar with the issue of some villages disallowing women from taking up matai titles — a prerequisite for contesting general elections.
“Titles are the sovereignty of families and villages and government shouldn’t interfere with it. While some families ban women title holders, many more do not.
“Everybody has family who give out titles to their women. There are also the sa’o tamaitai titles and taupou titles that only women can ascribe to and can take with them to Parliament.”
Tuilaepa pointed out that there is a gender disparity in terms of roles when it comes to running for public office.
“While young boys have a lot of freedom, young girls tend to stay home and do their studies. That is why every year we have more girls taking up scholarship placements than boys. And when they do come back with their degrees, they work hard and don’t stray far from home. Unlike young men who tend to patronize bars and night clubs. When they get married and have children, women again stay home, take care of the kids and the household. Again, their husbands go to work, play golf, have a few beers afterwards with their mates and get home after ten at night. Men also have all the freedom to run for Parliament minus the home responsibilities left to their wives.
“Women who run for office are either those who choose to remain single and not have children, or old women whose children have all grown up and have taken up an interest in politics.
“That, I think, is not equal opportunity. There is a disparity in the roles and responsibilities of men and women which affects women’s ability and access to public office. This bill aims to level that field by encouraging more women to run for office.”
The Prime Minister said the planned bill is no different from other legislations that seek to promote democracy and improve people’s lives.
“It’s no different from other social policies such as improving education and getting young people roaming around town to go back to the village plant bananas and contribute to the church and village community.”
[Editor’s note: Samoa News publishes this story — which first appeared in the Samoa government owned Le Savali newspaper — with permission from Tupuola, who is also editor of the Le Savali.]